REVIEW: In Time [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: October 28th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Andrew Niccol
Writer(s): Andrew Niccol

“Your mind can be spent even if your body’s not”

A watered-down Gattaca from the same creative mind, Andrew Niccol‘s In Time takes his human story of survival onto a global level. Rather than watch one man succeed in following an unattainable dream by taking the charity of another no longer wanting the gifts he was born with, we experience an entire dystopia’s upheaval. This world isn’t about a genetic propensity for excellence; it’s about time ticking down for the poor and being muted for the rich. Living in the ghetto of Dayton’s District 12 means every second counts while New Greenwich’s oasis turns its inhabitants onto the path of sloth—albeit the good-looking, in shape kind. For the few to be immortal, many must die. It’s a creed the many have tried to ignore for decades and what Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) no longer has reason abide.

The concept itself is pretty great. Save the cinematic action tropes and an obvious ending with clunky orchestration, Niccol crafts futures with moral ambiguity like no other. Earth has been sectioned off into time zones that separate themselves by financial wealth rather than the sun’s rising and falling. Money has been replaced by seconds and after each human reaches their twenty-fifth birthday, the year digitally stamped to their forearm unfreezes to be spent or lived at will. For the poor, those three hundred and sixty five days are a way to pay off debt and educate the newly doomed into how one can stretch a day into just squeaking by to last another. Conversely, the rich pass on decades like a graduation present, giving their young longevity as well as the prison sentence immortality brings. When age is no longer an issue, only fearing a random, violent death stands between you and God.

And this is where Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) comes in. A well-to-do gentleman with seventy plus years behind him and a century to go with more bankrolled back home, his appearance inside a Dayton bar handing out free drinks is strange to say the least. With Minuteman Fortis’ (Alex Pettyfer) gang of thugs waiting for the right moment to dispatch Hamilton’s lost pretty boy, Will leans over to warn about what this town does to men like him. Arrived to enjoy a drink with best friend Borel (Johnny Galecki), Will is the only one willing to help when the fight breaks out. Orchestrating an escape that the saved never wanted in the first place, the truth of the system is explained. Henry, fed up with his burden while others must watch their numbers diminish to zero, sees a way to make a difference in Will—a man who wouldn’t waste a single second.

Such a gift, however, brings consequences. When the prospect of sharing the time with his mother (Olivia Wilde) proves tragic and an escape through zones for revenge on the elite lands a Timekeeper bounty on his head, his fast-paced way of living finds itself wreaking havoc on the carefully manicured lives of the wealthy. The man behind it all—his name on every bank filled with time cartridges ready to be disseminated through loans and exorbitant interest—Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser) proves an easy mark and his bleeding heart daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried) a companion with means and desire to help tumble the regime that’s kept her safe for twenty-seven years. But with Timekeeper Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy) on his tail as though his own life depended on it, an adventure as a modern day Robin Hood won’t be as easy as he hopes.

Where In Time works best is the science fiction detail sprinkled throughout. You’ll wish for a less mainstream genre film than what’s given due to the potential for a much cerebrally dark tale, but it proves effective nonetheless. Some instances—buying a car with a fifty-six year pricetag is assumed for display purposes rather than use—are cheesy, while others more three-dimensional than fodder for joke. The idea that the rich need bodyguards despite living in a zone with a full year of life toll is sound due to the dangers accidents hold; police officers living on per diem shows a knowledge on behalf of the government that the criminal element would exploit such accessible means for wealth otherwise; and the whole exchange of time by infrared scanning at the wrist is—for lack of a better phrase—really cool.

Unfortunately, while the mythology is sound, its utilization falls prey to convenience. Timberlake carries himself adequately in a starring role and portrays a character with a lot of intriguing history glossed over by a Cliff Notes version to get him through danger. We want to rally behind his cause but find ourselves detached because the few facts we know are so crucial to the contrived ploting. Pairing him with a rather empty love interest—and I usually think Seyfried excels above her lackluster material—whose only import comes from her last name doesn’t help matters. We’re never quite sure whether to think Bonnie and Clyde or Robin and Maid Marion and the prevalence of superiority complexes actually makes them a bit unlikable by the end. I honestly found myself rooting for Murphy’s Leon—the only multi-layered cog in this machine, sadly ruined by a potentially profound end becoming horrendously rushed and ill-served.

There are still memorable scenes such as Timberlake coming into his own during a fight with back against the wall against a fantastically vile Pettyfer, but they only shine the spotlight on what could have been rather than excite with what is. In Time possesses a concept that could form the basis of a science-fiction masterpiece if not bogged down by convention and box office hope. While I’ll dream that a director’s cut exists somewhere with thirty extra minutes to darken things up and increase the rating to R knowing full well it’s untrue, the reality of the situation is: I should simply re-watch Gattaca instead.

[1] Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried play as Will Salas and Sylvia Weis in Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation ‘In Time.’ Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan. TM and © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
[2] Cillian Murphy stars as Timekeeper Raymond Leon in 20th Century Fox’s In Time (2011)
[3] Alex Pettyfer stars as Fortis in 20th Century Fox’s In Time (2011)

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